Thursday, December 2, 2021

A Child at Christmas. Looking for the Christmases I lost along the way...

Anyone who knows me even a little, knows I am the most “Christmassy” person on earth. I am Clark W. Griswold in real life. I love the music, I love the lights, I love the decorations. I love it all. But this year -and all the most recent Christmases—I’ve felt different.
With each passing year I’ve felt less connected to the holiday than I have been previously. Something has been missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Until now.
I’ve been pondering this attitude of mine since before Thanksgiving and last week I think I found my answer. I think it is something shared by a lot of folks at the stage of life I find myself.
I’ve lost the wonder.
I’ve lost the wonder and the magic of Christmas, and as I’ve been thinking about it and wondering why, I believe I came up with some answers.
I think I’ve forgotten how to be a child.
Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and don’t deny them from approaching me. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is inhabited by those who are childlike.”
(Matthew 19:14)
Last week I began another reading of Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel.” It has long been my favorite book by Manning and one of the best works on the topic of Grace ever written. I read it for the first time the day before Thanksgiving, 1993. You read that right…I read the entire book in one day. In eight hours to be exact. I was so thirsty for Grace and so desperate to know that God really loved me that I could not put it down.
I read more than half of the book on my knees, sobbing as I read, gulping down the words of grace and God’s affection. It changed me drastically. But over the years, something happened.
Reading the book softened my heart, but a soft heart must be maintained. Childlike faith grows into skeptical doubt if you’re not careful. Life has a way of harming the innocent among us and stealing whatever joy we found in simply believing God and taking Him at his word.
That happened to me.
In the twenty-eight years since I first read that book, the child I reconnected with that day was once again forced into a closet somewhere in my heart.
It happened slowly, over time. When life took swings and connected with the occasional roundhouse to the chin. Each time, the little child retreated further into some hiding place in my soul.
Three years after reading the book for the first time, I lost my little sister in a car accident. And the child in me had a hard time understanding God’s plan in all of it, even though His hand was mercifully on her even the day before her death.
Four years after reading the book I got married. Five years after reading it I became a dad. Six years after…I was divorced. The child was devastated. He had finally found an outlet for the massive love in his heart, and it was gone before he even got started.
But I had my daughter, and so -even as my childlike innocence was hardening into the carapace of adult cynicism and doubt— I was able to see childlike faith and innocence on display through her eyes and her heart and it kept me at least aware of what that all looked like.
Christmas, when my daughter was a child, was as exciting for me as it was for her. Maybe more so. Every memory we created together, was a reminder of the wonder of Christmas and the promise of the baby in the manger. Having a child at Christmas kept me connected to the child I was at Christmas.
It was easy to remember the “why” of Christmas. In fact, it was more vital and more real for me as a parent of a small child, than it had been as a child myself. Christmas, when she was little, was a season of wonder.
But, as all children do, she grew up.
My daughter is almost twenty-four now. She hasn’t been a child in a long time. She might still be my child…my little girl, but in reality, she is an adult and Christmas morning isn’t what it was for her fifteen years ago.
And so, I realized this week that my reference had once again shifted to an adult view of Christmas. I don’t have a little child in my home anymore from whom I can absorb the wonder and through whom I can live the magic of Christmas vicariously. It’s two adults, a man and his adult daughter, and the wonder is gone.
The music has not sounded the same this year. Christmas music holds a place in my heart but this year it has been flat. The movies I watch each season have struggled to hold my interest, whereas in years past I could watch them over and again, happily, until the season was done.
And perhaps the hardest truth about Christmas this year, and in recent years, is that somehow…someway, I lost sight of the Baby in the manger. The tiny infant in the center of the story who is the whole reason we have this holiday.
Somehow, in losing all contact with childlike faith, I lost contact with The Child at the center of that Faith.
Reading Manning again has reminded me of how it once was for me. How childlike faith felt when I first tasted it. This week has been a daily pursuit of that child and The Child.
It’s only December 2 and I am determined to restore that child inside me and to find my way back to the sheep pen where The Child once again lies. God Himself, in human skin, desiring to be held, coddled, loved. Waiting to give His love to all who would venture to Bethlehem, find Him in his lowly place in a sheep trough, and let Him do what all babies do…touch our hearts in places we long ago forgot we even had. He makes it okay to become children again. To have childlike faith again. To wonder again.
My friend Rick Elias once said: “He was born in a barn, lived as a pauper, died on a cross in the trash heap of Jerusalem. He was the son of God with spit running down his face…and I have entrusted my soul to Him.”
He was the very Son of God who chose to leave Heaven, be born the same way my own child was born, wear human flesh and be touchable, and vulnerable. He did this so that I could become a child again.
His child.
That… is what brings the wonder to this holiday.

Merry Christmas everyone. 

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